Review: 'Jersey Boys' tells the four stories of the Four Seasons
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Monday, June 11, 2012
6/11/12 at 5:41 AM
It isn't until the middle of "Summer" that it happens, but when it does, it's as startling and exhilarating as it must have been the first time it came roaring out of transistor radio speakers 50 years ago.
It's the moment when four guys from New Jersey, who had been kicking around the fringes of the music business - in between stints in the joint for various and sundry petty crimes - finally come up with the perfect blend of talent and material in a song called "Sherry."
A lot of music precedes that moment in "Jersey Boys," the musical about the vocal group the Four Seasons - bits and pieces of 14 other songs, in fact.
And one of the things that makes "Jersey Boys" so much more than just another jukebox musical is that the progression of all those other songs subtly demonstrates the evolution of the Four Seasons' sound, so that their discovery of that blend of power falsetto lead vocal over eccentric but pleasing harmonies is as logical and right as it is unique and unexpected.
But there is a lot more reason why "Jersey Boys," which opened a three-week run Wednesday at the Tulsa PAC, has become such a phenomenon.
For one, it's a classic story of the American Dream - that yearning to escape to something better. And when you grow up in a place like Belleville, N.J., you had three ways to get out, according to Tommy DeVito (John Gardiner). "You join the Army," DeVito says, "you get mobbed up, or you become a star."
That last course is the one Tommy's been pursuing without too much success, until he finds a kid who "sings like an angel" named Francis Castelluccio - who soon changes his name to Frankie Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie).
Once Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), a bass guitar-playing man of few words, gets out of prison, he joins DeVito and Valli in the group. But it isn't until the trio is introduced to a songwriter named Bob Gaudio (Preston Truman Boyd) that all the pieces come together for what will become the Four Seasons.
As the hits pile up, so do the problems - family breakdowns, romantic breakups, first too much money, then not enough, as DeVito's high living and high rolling sinks the group into debt and threatens to destroy it all.
Des McAnuff staged the action with all the kinetic energy of a Martin Scorsese gangster movie, with scenes changing with cinematic speed and fluidity. The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice compresses a good 40 years of history into a fast-moving, often sharply funny, and surprisingly rich story that gives each main character a "season" in which to tell his version of the story.
And while Brickman and Elice may have taken a few liberties with the facts, as Tommy DeVito says, "You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions."
The four guys telling those stories in this production are top-notch. I've heard other actors in the role of Frankie Valli who do a more exact job of recreating Valli's distinctive falsetto, but I haven't seen anyone give a more deeply felt, more finely nuanced performance than Bwarie, whether it's as the wide-eyed young Frankie at the start or a grieving father at the end.
He's also the most physically active Frankie, dropping into the splits in some of the dance moments. And Bwarie's singing has great energy and passion, especially in the second act, when each performance is Frankie Valli basically singing to save his life - for example, in a bravura performance of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," where all the desperation turns into triumph.
Gardiner is just about perfect as DeVito - a tight, compact bundle of single-minded ambition and potential violence, the sort of guy who always talks about getting out of "the neighborhood" but can never leave it behind. He delivers DeVito's wiseguy patter so naturally you would think Gardiner had just stepped off the red-eye from Newark.
Boyd has a singing voice about as strong and wide-ranging as Bwarie's, as he demonstrates in "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)." And his fine sense of comic timing makes his delivery of Gaudio's droll one-liners crackle with dry wit. And Boyd projects so confident a presence that, even when Gaudio begins to move out of the spotlight, Boyd continues to make him fascinating to watch.
Lomenda makes the most of Massi's relatively few lines, so that just about everything he says comes as a surprise, like his hilarious outburst about DeVito's personal habits in the midst of a tense scene involving a couple of mobsters.
And the blend of these four voices, on songs such as "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "Big Man in Town" and "Rag Doll," is so real and true that you almost think it just might be December 1963, and you're hearing this group for the first time.
Jonathan Hadley is just outrageous enough as the flamboyant producer Bob Crewe, Joseph Siravo is a convincing Gyp DeCarlo; Kara Tremel, Denise Payne and Lauren Deciendo are the many women in the Four Seasons' lives; and John Rochette moves with remarkable ease among various roles, from on-stage drummer to mob man Norm Waxman to future Four Seasons member Charlie Calello.
John Samorian led the show's band, which included on-stage and off-stage players, as well as several cast members.
Signs in the PAC lobby warn that the show contains "authentic, profane New Jersey language," which it does. It also contains a great story, great performances and great, great songs. Oh, what a night, indeed.
"Jersey Boys" continues with performances through June 24 at the Tulsa PAC. For tickets: 918-596-7111, tulsaworld.com/mytix
Original Print Headline: The four stories of the Four Seasons
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
The Four Seasons test out their harmonies in the recording studio, in this scene from "Jersey Boys." Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda, left), Frankie Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie), Bob Gaudio (Preston Truman Boyd) and Tommy DeVito (John Gardiner) star as the band members. Courtesy photo
Frankie Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie, center) discovers just how deep in trouble he and his fellow bandmates are with the mob in this scene from "Jersey Boys." Courtesy photo